Primary elections for municipal council seats in Thurston County are but a few weeks away, and this brings with it the fundamental question of: why in the hell are we even paying attention to this?
A provocative way to start this article, for sure, but it’s also a question many people in this county ask themselves every year. In Washington, a state where voting is easier than anywhere else in the country, with mail-in voting, ballot drop boxes, and weeks to turn in a ballot, turnout in municipal elections in this county is atrociously low: 2019 saw only 44% of the county vote, and 2017 was ten points lower than that, at 34%. Already, the electoralists are playing a losing game: instead of going to the base of the revolutionary movement, that is, the lowest and deepest of the masses, and organizing for revolution, they’re stuck courting the outright minority of people who might cast a ballot for a candidate who maybe says gentrification is bad during a council meeting, if they even win.
Which brings us to the first contradiction of the Olympia metroplex, and the one that informs pretty much all others: class. Olympia, Lacey, and Tumwater are all dictatorships of the petty bourgeoisie, and only in Olympia has there been any semblance of an organized electoral pushback to this. Small business owners and land developers dominate municipal politics to a degree that they basically wield their power as a collective entity in government, and any candidate who manages to get elected on anything resembling a progressive platform is either steamrolled and then ousted in four years, or is beaten until they join the bourgeois interests.
Olympia, Lacey, and Tumwater are not divided into electoral wards like in other cities, but rather each councilmember is elected at-large. This model inherently favors people who are already wealthy to run, since running a citywide campaign takes a considerable amount of finances. Between 2017 and 2019, candidates labelled as “progressive” spent somewhere between $65,000–80,000, according to the Public Disclosure Commission. This figure could easily be used to jumpstart entire organizations! The bulk of candidates who run for municipal council positions are typically petty bourgeoisie, land developers, or otherwise members of the very large labor aristocracy here, thanks in part to Olympia being the state capital. And those tens of thousands of dollars have gotten us…to nowhere better. Indeed, since the pandemic, gentrification sped up, with what little opposition Olympia provided being dispersed. The Olympia City Council voted to bomb and gas protesters here last summer, and could afford to do so knowing that what little opposition they faced was severely weakened thanks to there being a highly infectious virus.
So, it’s been made clear at this point that running for municipal council here is expensive, extremely time-consuming, and not worth the effort. If a progressive candidate does win, they face entrenched and extremely virulent opposition from not just the big capitalists and their running-dogs in government, but the city’s extremely reactionary petty bourgeoisie.
So, what opposition does exist here?
Well, Olympia has been largely the domain of anarchists. The effectiveness of these anarchists has been at or near zero in most areas of concern, as is the tendency of anarchism in general. However, there is one area that the anarchists have been particularly successful in, to a degree: militant action. The so-called “Olympia Commune”, a protest against militarization of the Port of Olympia, was successful in drawing the ire of the Olympia City Council and the Olympia Police Department, who ordered (and executed) its removal. The Olympia Commune project was fraught with devisiveness and confrontation and disagreement on strategy, but it proved that any sense of militancy confounds the municipal governments here. They’re so used to passive organizing, groups meeting in the Olympia Center to dream up ideas that they have no idea how to put in practice, groups they can easily co-opt, make paens to, and neutralize. Militant action, though, people rising up and telling them to fuck off, completely confuses them, like a wounded animal; they don’t think, and lash out. This is an important lesson that can be used to our advantage.
So what’s the path forward?
Ideologically, the revolution of a Marxist-Leninist-Maoist type is dependent on the masses. “The masses are the makers of history.” But mechanically, the base area, that is, a zone completely under Communist control from which protracted people’s war can be waged, is the most important component. But to build that base area, you first need a mass base. And for a mass base, you need the Three Instruments of revolution: the Party, Army, and United Front.
Marxism-Leninism-Maoism teaches us that the process of building these instruments of revolution is called ‘concentric construction’. That is, a revolutionized core builds the Party, who then builds the Army, and who then builds the United Front of mass organizations. The problem is, the United States does not have a revolutionized core. Here, the process is going to need to be done almost in reverse: United Front and non-combatant sections of the Army first (non-combatant, since “the Party commands the gun”), and then through revolutionary mass work and education, by building up and developing the revolutionary mass base, the advanced sections of the oppressed masses will separate themselves over time. Together with political officers in the mass organizations and Army, this advanced section can constitute the Party, and unify the entire revolutionary movement under its banner. So where, in Olympia, do we start with a People’s Revolutionary United Front? Well, United Front mass organizations are any organization of groups of people united by a common denominator. In the Philippines, where the Communists there are leading a revolution of a Maoist type, the United Front contains mass organizations for students, teachers, lawyers, religious folks, the Red trade unions, Indigenous activists, and whatnot.
We certainly have the base for groups like that here. The Olympia metroplex has a large number of houseless folks, a figure that’s been steadily and rapidly rising. The extremely flawed Point-in-Time (PiT) houseless census conducted by the county has shown a dramatic increase in the number of houseless folks here, from 800 in 2019 to 995 in 2020 to a preliminary number of 1,145 this year, and that number is notoriously soft. As per an article from last year, those numbers don’t count people who are doubled-up, couchsurfing, or, most critically, homeless under-18s. That means smaller towns like Tumwater can report tiny street populations to Housing and Urban Development while still having doubled-up families with children. So that number of 995 from 2020 is, in reality, probably closer to the neighborhood of 3,500. Lord only knows what that means for this year’s (still preliminary) count.
Besides the houseless and transient communities, there’s also the droves of working poor. There’s Indigenous, Black, and other colonized peoples here who’ve long been under the jackboot of settler-colonial policy in a very white state. There’s LGBT+ folks, who face extraordinary violence and terror in a state that prides itself as one of the nation’s safest for queer and trans folks, however far from the truth that may be.
What’s critical to building this United Front in a Maoist sense is uniting these mass organizations under a General Political Line of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism and revolution. This is not merely a list of bullet points, but a complex document outlining the revolutionary movement’s strategy on building the mass organizations, building the base areas and guerilla zones, the Proletarian Military Line, the movement’s analysis and stance on internationalism, and whatnot. This is the key ingredient to building the revolutionary movement. Without the General Political Line, all work is for naught.
And what of the People’s Revolutionary Army? Well, Washington, despite the gun control-happy disposition the state gives off nationally, is not very gun-shy in most parts of the state, and finding and training people will not be terribly difficult. But in the absence of a Party, this should be avoided. Mao teaches us that the Party commands the gun, and this instruction should be obeyed lest the revolutionary movement fall into putschist militarism. Additionally, the Army is not merely a fighting force, but also the defender of the masses and a vehicle for revolutionary work and education. You do not only need to know how to shoot to be in the Army, but also how to interact with the masses in your day-to-day life.
However, there are sections that can be built now, and even at ground level (that is, neither above-ground nor underground). The most obvious is a People’s Revolutionary Medical Corps. There is a dire need for an organized force of trained medics here, both in protest environments and among the deepest of masses, and unlike other sections, there’s actually a potential core of potential cadre. Most importantly, it’s a way to instill revolutionary discipline and education, and molding cadre into trained Marxist-Leninist-Maoist revolutionaries.
The path forward will be long and arduous, but let’s embark on it together, rather than waste time and precious money on bourgeois elections that help nobody. We can build a better world, as long as we put the effort and gumption into it.